Self Parody, National Identity and the Canadian Culture Industry

What does it mean to be authentically Canadian in the time of Nickelback? Read this story in Somersault’s free pdf issue!

By Gareth Simpson (Gareth Simpson is a writer and humo(u)rist from Vancouver, British Columbia. He doesn’t really like Stephen Harper or Nickelback all that much, but he thinks Justin Bieber is okay. He has a Twitter and a Tumblr, but then again so does everyone else.)

It speaks volumes about the Canadian culture industry that the announcement of Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne’s engagement felt so momentous. Their engagement served as a tipping point into self-parody for the nation that gave the world Anne of Green Gables, Glenn Gould, and the genesis of Saturday Night Live. Fittingly, their relationship started on Canada Day, which the Nickelback frontman called “very cool.” The engagement was the subject of widespread mockery, most of it from Canadians racing to distance themselves from the pair. Lavigne and Kroeger (and Kroeger’s band Nickelback) have come to represent a certain unacknowledged tension within Canada. Many Canadians, particularly those in metropolitan hotbeds like Vancouver and Toronto, are embarrassed by bands like Nickelback and uncomfortable with their ubiquity. Despite well-publicized protests, the band has been an undeniable force, racking up more Juno Awards than Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell combined. The reason for this, despite the rush to disassociate, is that Nickelback really is Canada today. Their music is the soundtrack of a country that is no longer what it used to be, that has had its image retooled over the last six years by a right-wing economist whose most enduring cultural legacy has been his tendency to co-opt pianos and hammer out Beatles tunes like an awkward uncle at a family reunion.

In the middle of the twentieth century, as the United States was turning into a entertainment superpower, the Canadian government decided that they needed to enforce a certain degree of Canadian culture. They feared, for good reason, that if they didn’t ensure that content created by Canadians would actually reach its intended audience, their entire society would be subjugated by the cultural delights of their southern neighbor. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously compared Canada’s border with the United States to sleeping next to an elephant. “No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

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In case you missed the big announcement last week...

This is the week! 

Somersault’s editorial staff is very pleased to be publishing our one-shot issue this Thursday. You’ll be able to read our issue in full up at Issuu starting in the morning, and throughout the day we’ll be posting the individual pieces of art and the essays to this Tumblr so you can share, comment and reblog. 

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Review of Elia Suleiman's Yadon Ilaheyya/Divine Intervention

Review of Elia Suleiman’s Yadon Ilaheyya/Divine Intervention. Read this story in Somersault’s free pdf issue!

By Alexia Chandon-Piazza. (Alexia Chandon-Piazza lives in France but likes to think in English. At night she’s an actress and a singer. During the day she spends way too much time writing about the colours of the river and photographing the clouds. She has a website.)

In 2002, I went to the cinema. I don’t remember the movie that I saw that day, but I remember vividly an image from a trailer – a high angle shot of a person, flying through mid air, arms extended in a Christian pose, a halo of bullets around its keffiyeh-wrapped head. This image struck me and stayed in my mind for a long time, even though I couldn’t exactly understand its meaning. Last night I remembered this image, and the movie which it was taken from Yadon Ilaheyya (Divine Intervention), by Elia Suleiman, and I decided to watch it. This was – with a ten year delay – a revelation. Following the uneventful life of E.S. — played by Elia Suleiman himself — I laughed and cried, and most of the time laughed till I cried. The whole movie is infused with an absurd almost surrealist sense of humour, dark, poetic, and dry wit at its best — Jacques Tati or Buster Keaton almost immediately come to mind.

Lately I’ve been thinking about framing and editing, in photography, and cinema. I’ve been experimenting, with photos, creating diptychs, as an exercise for storytelling. I’ve had the occasion, two years ago, to act in front of a camera, for school projects mainly, but also to be boom operator, continuity girl, and less often, cameraman. The latter was especially interesting to me. It really was about rhythm, and as a performer I realised that being a cameraman was exactly like dancing with other people, or having a jam session. Being able to catch those tiny moments of emotion without making them obscene or grotesque, of zooming in and out of a situation, of being aware at any given moment of what was happening — even the most minuscule and ineffable movements — was what felt the most like acting on stage. And then, once the dancing is finished, using these instants of truth captured on film, choosing them through the hours of rushes ; and patiently, telling a story, cutting, pasting images, fleeting moments, bits and bobs of light and colours. The mere act of juxtaposing two images next to one another is already a form of storytelling. It can be fictional or journalistic, but two images put together tell both their own stories, and a new, invisible one, born from their composition. That’s what editing in cinema is about. Telling, within the big story, small ones, with every new shot. They can contradict the bigger one, or feed it.

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